by D.W. Lundberg

Friday, August 16, 2013


Our continuing foray into Disney's fifty official Animated Classics. As always, don't hesitate to share your thoughts/memories/complaints in the comments section below. Links to previous entries are also included below.

Title: Chicken Little (2005; based on the centuries-old folktale)

The Plot: A determined yet diminutive rooster becomes a laughing stock when he accuses the sky of falling, but is later vindicated when an army of UFOs invades his town.

The Songs: "One Little Slip" (performed by Barenaked Ladies), "All I Know" (performed by Five For Fighting), "Shake A Tail Feather" (performed by The Cheetah Girls); all other songs, including "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" (performed by Diana Ross) and "Stir It Up" (performed by Joss Stone and Patti LaBelle) were not written specifically for the film

A Little History: Following a steep decline in popularity during the early '00s, the executives at Walt Disney Studios decided to cease production on all 2D-animated features, so they could focus on computer-generated films instead. Director Mark Dindal (The Emperor's New Groove) conceived the idea for Chicken Little while trying to apply real- world motivation to popular children's stories. (Walt Disney actually adapted the story before, at the request of the United States government, as a treatise against Nazism and totalitarianism during World War II.) As research, Dindal screened several animated Goofy shorts from the 40s and 50s, to give his production staff an idea of the style he wanted for the movie. This "squash and stretch"-type animation was then integrated into the characters' movements, to retain a distinctively 2D feel. The animators attended a rigorous 18-month training program to familiarize them with Autodesk's Maya computer software, which was used to render the film. Much of the film's hardware and software, in fact, were created specifically for the production; these include "Shelf Control" (a program which allowed the animators to manipulate any given area of a character on screen), "Chicken Wire" (wire- frame models of the characters which can be stretched and squeezed into any shape), and electronic tablet screens which permitted the animators to draw digital sketches of the characters before rendering them in 3D. Chicken Little was originally designed as a female, until Michael Eisner suggested that a diminutive male character would be more sympathetic to audiences. Matthew Broderick, Michael J. Fox, and David Spade were all considered for the role of Chicken Little before Zach Braff (TV's Scrubs) was cast; Jamie Lee Curtis, Jodie Foster, and Sarah Jessica Parker were considered to play Abby Mallard (Joan Cusack voices the character in the final film). At the time of Chicken Little's release, contract negotiations between Disney and Pixar Animation Studios had begun in earnest (their co-production deal was set to expire in June 2006), but were put on hold until both sides could adequately gauge the film's performance at the box office. Chicken Little opened on November 4th, 2005, and grossed over $314 million worldwide - $105 million more than Treasure Planet and Home On The Range combined. It was, however, considered a moderate success, performing well under Pixar's standards (and taking a pounding from critics to boot) but bolstering Disney's confidence in producing animated product. On January 24th, 2006, the company announced their intent to buy Pixar for $7.4 billion in stocks. The deal was finalized on May 5th.

How It Broke New Ground: The first fully computer-animated feature produced in-house by Disney. Also the first film released in RealD 3D and Disney Digital 3D.

How It Holds Up Today: Disney tries to out-Pixar Pixar - and DreamWorks, and just about everyone else who's dabbled in CG-animated features - as if the sudden switch in formats might automatically cure all their box office ills. But the animation isn't the problem, it's the quality of their product, and no amount of fancy digital trickery can help cover that up. Chicken Little may have the glossy surface sheen of a Toy Story or a Shrek, but its tone is actually closer to recent "hits" such as Madagascar and Shark Tale - i.e., nonstop pop culture references (none of them funny) and a pop star-studded soundtrack (with the likes of Queen, the Spice Girls, and R.E.M.'s "It's The End Of The World As We Know It" trotted out at regular intervals). And while the kids seem to enjoy its prankish humor and generic silliness, adults may be too busy checking their watches to care. I laughed maybe once during its entire running time, at the sight of a three-eyed Mickey Mouse (don't ask), and sat for the rest feeling dumbfounded and even slightly annoyed. If this is the future of Disney entertainment, I'll stick to the past instead.

Grade: C-


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